The VACCINES Act proposes federal funding for vaccine surveillance, public messaging campaign
June 21, 2019 (ACP) – Amid a serious threat from disease outbreaks and the spread of misinformation on vaccines, the American College of Physicians is calling on Congress to support legislation aimed to improve vaccine rates.
In conjunction with other organizations that represent America's frontline physicians, ACP is calling for passage of the Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunization Nationally and Enhance Safety (VACCINES) Act, bipartisan legislation that would provide federal funding for surveillance of low vaccination rates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and outline a national public messaging campaign informed by this research to help improve vaccination rates.
The VACCINES Act was introduced in the midst of several measles outbreaks in the United States. The number of measles cases reported so far in 2019 is now the highest since 1992 when more than 2,000 cases were reported, according to an article in The New York Times. Measles cases have been reported in 28 states, with more than 1,000 cases in total.
“Vaccines, which have been repeatedly demonstrated to be safe, have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are one of the most significant medical innovations of our time,” Dr. Robert McLean, ACP president, wrote in a statement. “To undermine them would be to put the public's health at risk, as well as individuals who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
The VACCINES Act was introduced by Dr. Kim Schrier, a House representative from Washington State who is a pediatrician. The bill has 10 cosponsors, including Dr. Ami Bera, an internal medicine specialist and member of ACP, and also House representative from California.
“Like all physicians, Dr. Schrier knows the importance of vaccinations in preventing disease and promoting health,” said Dr. Douglas M. DeLong, chair of the ACP Board of Regents. “Our policies fully support her proposed VACCINES legislation.”
DeLong met with Rep. Schrier in early June during a “fly-in” meeting of leaders from the ACP, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Osteopathic Association, and American Psychiatric Association.
In May 2019, these organizations issued a joint statement calling for support of the VACCINE Act. “Parents want to do what is best for their children,” the organizations wrote in the joint statement. “Yet, parents searching for credible information about vaccines are bombarded with misinformation online, where it's difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. A better understanding of vaccine hesitancy and how to effectively reach our patients is vital to protecting our communities from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. … Vaccine hesitancy is a public health crisis and we support the VACCINES Act as one important step to help address it and as a way to better educate the public and our patients.”
In a letter of support to Rep. Schrier and Texas Rep. Michael Burgess, an obstetrician/gynecologist and cosponsor of the bill, ACP reiterates its position on nonmedical exemptions, saying that allowing nonmedical exemptions “poses a risk to public health and our patients.”
Per a policy approved in 2015, ACP opposes nonmedical vaccination exemptions and urges states to eliminate them from immunization law. The policy states, “Exemptions from evidence-based immunization requirements should be limited to medical indications in order to protect the public's health.”
According to the Times, the only states that forbid religion-based vaccine exemptions are New York, California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine. Lawmakers in the state of New York, where measles has struck Orthodox Jewish communities, outlawed religion-based exemptions in June 2019. The New York Chapter of the American College of Physicians advocated strongly for the law, signed into effect last week, which only allows for an exemption if a patient's medical condition would place them at risk for an adverse outcome if immunized. Lawmakers in California are also considering legislation to make it harder to obtain exemptions. However, bills seeking to broaden exemptions have been introduced in at least 20 states this year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
DeLong encouraged ACP members to take advantage of the College's online toolkit, which offers advocacy assistance to chapters in states that are in danger of widening exemptions to immunization law.
ACP's Chapter Action Tool Kit to Eliminate Non-Medical Exemptions from State Immunization Laws is available on the ACP website.